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Judge: Rhode Island Gay Couples Can Marry In Massachusetts

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Judge: Rhode Island Gay Couples Can Marry In Massachusetts

by 365Gay.com Newscenter Staff

September 29, 2006 - 11:30 am ET Updated 1:30 pm ET

(Boston, Massachusetts) A Boston judge has ruled that a Massachusetts law forbidding out-of-state residents from marrying in Massachusetts if their marriage would not be permitted in their home state does not apply to Rhode Island.

Superior Court Judge Thomas Connolly said that Rhode Island does not specifically ban gay marriage.

The law was enacted in 1913 when most states did not recognize interracial marriage. After the US Supreme Court ruled that laws barring interracial couples from marrying was illegal the Massachusetts statute fell into disuse.

After same-sex marriage became legal in Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney ® used the old law to order local clerks not to issue marriage licenses to couples from outside the state.

Same-sex couples from Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine and New York went to court to fight the use of the old law.

A lower court agreed with the state's interpretation of the law and with the help of Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, the group which won marriage rights for same-sex couples in Massachusetts, appealed to the Supreme Judicial Court.

In March the high court upheld the law in the cases involving couples from Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine, noting that each of those states has laws barring same-sex marriage.

But the court questioned whether the law could apply to New York and Rhode Island which have no specific laws barring gay marriage. It ordered those sections of the case back to Superior Court.

The New York case became moot when that state's highest court ruled earlier this year that same-sex couples do not have a constitutional right to marry, and arguments in the Rhode Island case were heard by Judge Connolly in June.

The Massachusetts attorney general's office argued that Rhode Island statutes use gender-specific terms, including both "bride" and "groom," and it was clear the intention was to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

But in a written ruling issued on Friday Judge Connolly disagreed.

"No evidence was introduced before this court of a constitutional amendment, statute, or controlling appellate decision from Rhode Island that explicitly deems void or otherwise expressly forbids same-sex marriage," he ruled.

The case before Connolly involved a lesbian couple from Providence - Wendy Becker and Mary Norton - represented by Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, the group which won marriage rights for same-sex couples in Massachusetts.

“At last the fence of discrimination has been removed at the border of Massachusetts and Rhode Island,” said Michele Granda, the GLAD attorney who represented Becker and Norton. “Loving, committed, Rhode Island couples can now affirm their relationships in the most public and respected way our society knows.”

Becker and Norton said they are looking forward to their wedding day.

“After a very long engagement, we are thrilled to be able to marry and provide our family with the legal protection and social recognition we deserve,” said Becker. “As the parents of two wonderful young children, our desire to marry has always been with them in mind. We want them to feel their family is as worthy as any other.”

Attorney General Thomas Reilly said he would not appeal. Reilly, a Democrat, is running for governor.

Republican Gov. Mitt Romney could appoint a special attorney to appeal to the Supreme Judicial Court but that is seen as unlikely. A spokesperson for the governor issued a statement calling the ruling "illogical".

"We're reminded that the only sure way to protect traditional marriage is with a federal marriage amendment," said the statement, by Eric Fehrnstrom.

©365Gay.com 2006

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